Learn / What Is Imposter Syndrome and What Is Its Role in Addiction?

What Is Imposter Syndrome and What Is Its Role in Addiction?

Dr. Malasri Chaudhery-Malgeri, Ph.D.
 August 21st, 2023

Imposter syndrome is a psychological phenomenon characterized by negative thoughts and feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt, and fear of being considered fraudulent—despite evidence of success and competence. 

While not an official diagnosis, the syndrome was first described in 1978 by doctors Clance and Imes as imposter phenomenon, a shared experience among high-achieving women. Since then, imposter syndrome has been studied in various contexts, including academia, medicine, and other professional fields. 

Imposter syndrome, or imposter phenomenon, matters because it can significantly impact your mental health and well-being. It can also influence your career choices and influence how you perceive success. 

One key aspect of imposter syndrome is attributing your success to factors beyond your control. For example, you may think the only reason for your success is luck and believe that other people’s success is due to their skills and knowledge

Feelings of self-doubt, low self-esteem, or even pre-existing conditions (i.e. depression, anxiety) can also make you more prone to developing imposter syndrome. For that reason, imposter syndrome strongly links to general psychological distress, fear of being thought of or discovered as a fraud, and uncertainty about your performance. You might also experience it during times of transition and uncertainty.

Imposter syndrome has also been linked to increased work-related stress, depression, anxiety, burnout, and even suicide. As a result of these feelings, you may think you do not belong or that you can never meet your high standards. People who struggle with imposter syndrome tend to impose unreasonably high standards on themselves, setting themselves up for failure and resulting in feelings of guilt and shame.

The Perfectionist

The Perfectionist’s goal is to ensure that everything is executed to the highest standards, no matter how small the task. They strive to ensure that each task is completed to perfection, paying close attention to even the smallest of details. This may lead to feelings of shame if they are unable to meet their own lofty expectations, as even the slightest imperfection can be viewed as a failure.

The Antidote

Don’t wait for the “perfect time” to start tackling the project you’ve been dreaming of. Mistakes are a natural part of the process, so don’t let them bring you down. Instead, embrace them and push yourself to act, even if you feel unprepared. Chances are, your work will never be completely flawless, and that’s okay! Accepting this can help you feel more comfortable with taking risks and going after your goals.

The Expert

The Expert focuses on knowledge and competency. They strive for excellence by desiring to know everything and feeling shame when their knowledge falls short.

The Antidote

As you become more in tune with your own self-worth and are able to cultivate your inner confidence in your abilities, you will be able to relax and know when enough work has been done. So the key here is to connect with yourself. Take time to think about your wins and things you are grateful for on a daily basis. Celebrate your wins! Celebrate you!

The Soloist

The Soloist places a high emphasis on self-achievement, believing that only through individual effort can they attain true success. Consequently, to complete a task, it must be done solely by the individual in question, without any external assistance. The reluctance to ask for help can be rooted in a feeling of shame, as if seeking help is a sign of failure.

The Antidote

Request help when you need it. If you are unsure of how to do something, ask a colleague. If you can’t resolve an issue, get guidance from a helpful supervisor or even a professional career mentor.

The Natural Genius

The Natural Genius measures success not only by what is achieved but also in terms of how and when it is accomplished. For you, competence is judged based on how quickly and effortlessly you attain it.  As a result, feeling like you have to struggle to master a task or that you can’t produce a masterpiece on the first attempt can lead to feelings of failure and shame.

The Antidote

Rather than viewing yourself as a finished product with predetermined limitations, think of yourself as an ongoing project with limitless potential. Instead of getting discouraged when you don’t reach your sky-high goals, focus on the incremental changes you can make to help you get closer and closer to achieving them.

Instead of beating yourself up when you don’t reach your impossibly high standards, break down the behaviors that you can change in order to get closer to your goals. For instance, if you want to have more of an impact in the workplace, focus on improving your presentation skills, rather than believing that speaking up in meetings is something you can’t do. By embracing lifelong learning and skill-building, you can work towards achieving great things.

The Superhuman

The Antidote

The Superhuman, also known as the “workaholic,” judges their ability to manage multiple roles simultaneously, and feels the pressure to excel in all of them. They may feel ashamed if they fail to meet expectations in any capacity,as they feel they should always be able to do all things with ease and perfection. 

As a workaholic, it’s possible to be  addicted to the validation you receive from others, not the work itself. To break this cycle, it’s important to start training yourself to rely on your own opinion of yourself. Look for validation from yourself. By becoming more aware of internal validation and believing in your own competencies and skills, you can determine what a reasonable amount of work is for you, and create a healthy work-life balance.

What Causes Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome has several identified causes. One of the most common factors is a lack of confidence in your abilities. This can stem from a history of experiences, such as receiving negative feedback, self-inflicted social comparisons, and unrealistic expectations. These perceptions, emotions and historical experiences can lead to anxieties that reinforce the lack of belief and confidence in yourself. 

Symptoms of Imposter Syndrome: What Does Imposter Syndrome Feel Like? 

People with imposter syndrome often have the following signs and symptoms:

• A fear of being exposed as a fraud

• A fear of failure

• A fear of not being good enough

• A feeling that they are not as capable as their peers

• A feeling of self-doubt

How Imposter Syndrome May Lead to Addiction

Imposter syndrome and addiction can feed each other in a vicious cycle. Imposter syndrome can lead to feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt, and anxiety, which can increase the risk of addiction . Turning to drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with negative emotions, and to feel more confident and in control, can seem like an immediate and relieving solution . Addiction, in turn, can reinforce imposter feelings by further eroding your self-esteem and self-worth

Addiction can lead to negative consequences, such as job loss, financial problems, and strained relationships, exacerbating feelings of inadequacy and reinforcing the feelings of imposter syndrome. Several rehab programs can help you navigate your imposter syndrome, addiction, and other co-occurring symptoms.

Coping With Imposter Syndrome

Interventions for Imposter Syndrome

Several interventions can address imposter syndrome, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), mentoring, and social support. For instance, imposter syndrome can be turned around through various techniques, such as reframing negative self-talk, seeking feedback and validation, and building a supportive network. Other interventions for imposter syndrome include mindfulness-based stress reduction, self-compassion training, and exposure therapy that typically involves confronting fears related to your imposter syndrome narrative. 

Imposter syndrome can be a challenging experience, but as you explore treatment options and approaches, you can build your own toolbox, navigate through your feelings, and overcome the symptoms of imposter syndrome. Here’s how: 

1. Acknowledge your feelings: A starting point to the healing process can include acknowledging your feelings. You can journal your thoughts both for yourself and for any counseling/therapeutic sessions. 

2. Seek professional help: These interventions include training, coaching, and mentoring with a therapist, counselor and/or coach. In your sessions, you can explore how you attribute success and failures. 

3. Objectively evaluate your successes: This strategy involves objectively assessing your successes and the skills you need to achieve them, seeking constructive feedback from trusted mentors, and practicing self-compassion. 

Coping With Imposter Syndrome: Lifestyle Changes

To add to your toolbox, consider reframing your narratives and use habits to help reinforce self-confidence and the positives of life: 

1. Make a list of all your successes. Remind yourself of your successes often. Also, take time to recognize and celebrate your successes, no matter how small they may seem.

2. Set realistic goals for yourself and celebrate your progress.

3. Practice self-care: Incorporate activities into your life that make you feel good, such as meditation, exercise, and journaling.

4. Surround yourself with positive people. Spend time with individuals who support and encourage your efforts.

5. Speak up when you feel you have something valuable to contribute to a conversation.

6. Challenge your negative thoughts. When you have a negative thought, challenge it, reframe the message, and replace it with a more positive thought.

7. Ask for feedback from trusted colleagues, family, and friends, and use it to help you gain insight into your work and how they perceive it. 

Imposter syndrome can have long-lasting and detrimental implications on your mental health and well-being if left unaddressed and untreated. Addressing imposter syndrome comprehensively and seeking appropriate treatment and support is crucial.

Several rehabs focus on treating co-occurring disorders and can provide various treatment options to meet your needs.

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